For a second straight year, Governor Andrew Cuomo has fallen behind the schedule for releasing the required quarterly update to the state financial plan. And for a second straight year, the governor can’t come up with a persuasive reason for the delay.
In today’s Post, Fred Dicker quotes an administration source as saying the mid-year update is “all pre-Sandy numbers,” so the superstorm cannot be used as an excuse.
Not that excuses are actually allowed in any event. Here’s the relevant language from Section 23.4 of the State Finance Law:
Quarterly, throughout the fiscal year, the governor shall submit to the comptroller, the chairs of the senate finance and the assembly ways and means committees, within thirty days of the close of the quarter to which it shall pertain, a report which summarizes the actual experience to date and projections for the remaining quarters of the current fiscal year and for each of the next two fiscal years of receipts, disbursements, tax refunds, and repayments of advances presented in forms suitable for comparison with the financial plan submitted pursuant to subdivisions one, four, and five, of section twenty-two of this article and revised in accordance with the provisions of subdivision three of this section.
By law, the financial plan report for the state’s second quarter, also known as the mid-year update, was due Oct. 30 - and that (give or take a day or two) is when previous governors released their updates. Last year, however, Cuomo held up release of the report until Nov. 14. This year … well, we’re at 57 days and counting since the end of the second fiscal quarter. This will be the latest mid-year update in memory. It’s also the first time in memory the report has been late for two consecutive years.
State revenues were coming in below target even before the storm, and Cuomo has indicated that the economic disruptions could add $1 billion to next year’s budget gap, more than doubling the nearly $1 billion projected in the July financial plan update.
The purpose of the quarterly reporting requirement is to make the Legislature and the public (including bondholders) aware of key fiscal trends. The mid-year update is particularly important, coming at the start of the internal estimate-gathering process that culminates in the Executive Budget proposal in late January. Unfortunately, Cuomo is getting away with flouting the Finance Law because members of the state Legislature — the only people with legal standing to sue him — simply don’t care enough to make an issue of it. Indeed, the legislative leaders also have joined the governor in disregarding the state Finance Law requirement that they hold a public meeting to “quick start” the budget-making process. Here’s the relevant language, Section 23.5 of Finance Law:
Annually on or before November fifteenth, the governor, temporary president of the senate, the speaker of the assembly and the comptroller shall cause their respective appropriate personnel to meet and such meeting shall be open to the public for the purpose of jointly reviewing available financial information to facilitate timely adoption of a budget for the next fiscal year.
Last year, no such meeting was held, and Cuomo reportedly said he was “amused” by questions about it. But there’s nothing funny about financial disclosure: it’s at the heart of accountability, and the governor’s cavalier disregard for the law is a sign that the famous “dysfunction” he claims to have ended is actually persisting in a new form.
Meanwhile, Dicker’s column today also reports that Cuomo won’t seek (another) tax increase or higher fees to deal with the impact of Sandy, whatever it is. This is good news, assuming it’s accurate and the governor really means it this time — but it would be more reassuring if Cuomo was sharing some numbers.